Review: Flow Festival 2016

Art & Culture

We flew to Helsinki to check out Flow festival and get a dose of Nordic hospitality. Set in the confines of a disused industrial plant here’s what we learned…

1) The Fins love Saunas. 

Just because you’ve recently moved into a fancy new apartment building and there’s a sauna in the gym, or the fact you’ve shown other people who’s boss by having it so hot they can’t last as long as you, you are not sauna king. Leave that to the Fins who relish roasting themselves at 106°C in a wooden box, fully naked. These Nordic gods also say it’s normal to take a beer into the sauna to keep cool. The thing is, it kind of loses its purpose when you can’t put the bottle to your lips without scorching them, nor can you touch your hair without burning your hands. The next part of the process involves diving into a 14°C lake before heading back to the sauna and repeating the process until someone has the courage (or sanity) to say enough’s enough. Us Brits are prone to showing ourselves up abroad, and when you’re sat stark-bollock naked next to a large, bearded man, who is insisting that you are the löyly (the one who throws more water on the stones), there’s not much you can do to change that perception.  
And so, somewhat inevitably, our pride took an absolute battering. The Fins can keep sauna culture and we’ll stick with mediocre weather and fish and chips on Blackpool pier. 

2) Ghanaian rapper Ata Kak is pretty special. 

Firstly, we need to give blogger and label owner Awesome Tapes from Africa big respect for getting Ata Kak out there into the wider world. His one and only LP was recorded in 1994 in Ghana and disappeared into obscurity, before being rescued a few years ago in a market on the Gold Coast of Ghana. Awesome Tapes travelled the world (honestly, he travelled from LA to Ghana, from Dusseldorf to Canada and back to Ghana) all in search of the enigmatic rapper behind Ata Kak. Having finally been discovered, Yaw Atta-Owusu’s story has been told in great detail, featuring in various UK and European publications. So, here they were, playing in a tiny amphitheatre under a giant balloon in Helsinki of all places. Yaw, probably now in his 70’s, played all the hits (if you can call them that), wearing one of those smiles you just can’t helping smiling back at. We talk about vibes a lot, but here, under the balloon, the vibe created by Ata Kak was genuinely unmatched over the whole weekend. 

3) The Fins make a classy G&T

Thought gin and tonics were the reserve of English maharaja types? Think again.  It turns out Fins are also partial to a G&T, so much so they’ve created the world’s best gin and tonic. Truly, at an international wine and spirits convention, they were awarded the prize for the world’s best. Cranberries and rosemary are the secret ingredients, and the guys from the Kyro distillery are the collective Jedi behind this stunning elixir.  Stick that in your overpriced Fever Tree and Tanquerey. 

4) Stormzy is killing Scandinavia. 

Hardcore grime fans have deplored the meteoric growth and sudden mass popularity of what has always been a niche genre, but Stormzy is a force of nature (forgive the tenuous pun) and doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. In a packed and sweaty tent, he arrived in full black shell suit before gradually stripping down, showing off abs to rival some of the Scandinavian gods in the crowd. At the end of his set, he lists off the countries where he has just been, instructing the crowd to shout ‘shut up’ after each one. It’s cringingly obvious and you know that at the next stop on his tour the crowd will shout ‘shut up’ after he says Helsinki, but he’s still a crowd pleaser. 

5) The Black Madonna is so cool it hurts. 

What is there to say about Marea Stamper? She’s a quality producer, a mega deejay, and the first creative director at Chicago’s Smart Bar in 30 years. She played the intimate Resident Advisor stage to a tee, blending disco, techno and finally dusted with some home brewed Chicago house. When she says things like ‘Dance music needs breastfeeding DJs trying to get their kids to sleep before they have to play…dance music needs people who don’t have the right shoes to get into the club…dance music needs cranky queens and teenagers who are tired of this shit…’ you can’t help but conclude she’s one of the coolest DJs out there. 

8) New Order can make people half their age sob. 

To put it mildly, New Order were sensational. Take away the squabbling bitchiness that rumbles on in some form of other and New Order are (or what’s left) are still amazing to see live. At the start of the encore, when Bernard Sumner casually asks ‘any Joy Division fans around?’ the visuals light up with an image of what looks like Ian Curtis’s gravestone with ‘Forever Joy Division’ written in front of it. It’s at the this point the camera pans to someone in their 20s bawling their eyes out, being consoled by his mate. It’s an emotional moment, and one that reassures you that while bands split up, their music endures (as cheesy as that sounds).

All photos courtesy of Flow Festival 2016. 

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